Bitter Fruits (DI Erica Martin 1) by Alice Clark-Platts

bitter fruitsSex, secrets and online bullying…

😀 😀 😀 😀

When the body of first-year student Emily Brabents is found floating in the weir, it falls to recently promoted Detective Inspector Erica Martin to investigate. Having just transferred to the Durham force, Martin soon discovers what a huge part the prestigious University plays in this city, and the pressure is on to get a quick result before there’s too much bad publicity. But as Martin begins her investigation, she discovers that underneath the ancient traditions and academic reputation, Joyce College is awash with sex, secrets and online trolling. And pretty young Emily, desperate to be popular, has been at the centre of much of it, with sexually explicit photographs and videos of her appearing on Facebook, attracting the attention of every bully and troll in the College. But was she the victim of male manipulation that she at first sight would appear to be, or was she deliberately flaunting herself in some kind of skewed vision of feminism? Did the murder have something to do with the trolling or was there another motive – perhaps even something to do with her life outside University? When another student promptly confesses to the crime it looks as if everything will be tied up quickly, but DI Martin’s not convinced…

This is an excellent début novel. It’s primarily a police procedural, but one that focuses as much on the psychology of the culture that led to the crime as on who committed it. It’s hard hitting, and the storyline means that it is pretty sexually graphic, even salacious, at times – but only within the demands of the plot, so I didn’t feel it was gratuitous. Bit too much swearing for my taste, but what’s new there, eh? (One wonders if crime writers have to replace the f-key on their computers every ten thousand words or so…)

Durham University
Durham University

The story is told mainly from DI Martin’s viewpoint, though in the third person (past tense – yay!). She’s (and I can’t tell you how excited I am to say this) NOT a maverick! Instead, she’s an intelligent, dedicated officer who remains sober throughout, doesn’t break any laws (well, only one tiny one and she gets her knuckles duly rapped for it), doesn’t sleep with anyone except her partner, and doesn’t beat anyone up! I think I’m in love! Joking aside, she’s reasonably well developed in this one but there’s plenty of room for her character to grow in later books. We don’t see much of her outside work, but it’s clear her relationship is in difficulty, and at work she meets with the usual sexism, both of which did cause me to yawn just a little. But these aspects are merely touched on – the book concentrates almost entirely on the crime and the investigation, which I found deeply refreshing.

We also get to see the story from a different angle – through the journal of another student, Daniel Shepherd. Clark-Platts’ writing here is very skilful – Daniel’s voice is quite different to the main narrative. As an enthusiastic student of classic literature, he writes in a slightly overblown way – not enough to be annoying, but it gives him a very distinctive style of his own. He’s a bit of a loner, with a chip on his shoulder about the rich kids in the top colleges, to whom everything seems to come so easily. When the trolling of Emily begins, he at first provides a handy shoulder for her to cry on, but he soon feels he’d be willing to do almost anything to protect her.

Alice Clark-Platts
Alice Clark-Platts

The investigation element drags a bit in the middle with Martin putting off interviews with some of the major characters till later – clearly so there than can be a dramatic climax, but it didn’t feel wholly credible. But the first section is very strong as we get to know all the characters and begin to find out about what’s been happening in the college, and the ending is really great. Even when it becomes clear who the killer is, there’s real tension in working out the why of it all and seeing if Martin will be able to get some kind of justice for Emily. The whole psychology of it is the most interesting part and felt to me very real – not just the motivations of both Emily and the killer, but how an institution can develop a kind of sick culture that drags everyone into it, willing or not.

One of the most promising débuts I’ve read in crime fiction for a long time – I’m very much looking forward to meeting DI Martin again.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link – not due out till 1st September 2015


48 thoughts on “Bitter Fruits (DI Erica Martin 1) by Alice Clark-Platts

  1. What? A protagonist who doesn’t spend all her time drinking, bemoaning her situation, breaking every police rule and in general wallowing? Wonderful! Seriously, FictionFan, this does sound quite promising. And salacious or not, the culture of online trolling is, as you know, a sad reality for many young people (and plenty not-so-young). It sounds as though it’s dealt with quite credibly here, and that’s good to know.

    • I know! She’ll be drummed out of the crime writers’ union! 😉 Yes, and I thought she was quite insightful about how these things begin and then can spiral out of control. I must say I was very impressed all round with this one – and plenty of room for the characters to grow in future books…

  2. Thanks for very helpful review. I know very little about the world of trolling and such things, so this is intriguing in its own right. But from what you say it also sounds a well told, refreshing read. Good!

    • I’ve seen a little bit of small scale trolling on a forum I used to visit and even that was unpleasant enough, not just for the victim but for everyone else standing helplessly by unable to stop it. I thought the picture she gave of when it gets really out of hand was very credible and well done. A good start!

  3. This looks very much up my street, I would say. And a non-cliched copper! Truly a revelation. I shall be checking this one out, FF. I don’t mind a bit of salaciousness here and there 😉

    • Definitely think you’ll enjoy it! It’s only out in the UK at the mo, as far as I can see, but coming out in the US in September, so maybe it’ll appear in Australia at the same time. Fingers crossed!

        • Nah, I’m right off crime at the moment – I know lots of people love domestic noir, murdered children and messed up detectives and all that stuff but it’s just not for me. So I’ve not really had many outstanding crime reads this year at all. I’m not really selecting many for review now either, but still have quite a backlog to clear. Then I think I’ll stick to fiction and old favourites for a while.

  4. Sounds like a good start – but have I got room in my life for ANOTHER series? Seems like I’m running to catch up the ones I’m already caught up in.

  5. This one does sound interesting! I can truly appreciate how HARD it is to write a good middle, too. The first part is something we writers go over again and again, trying to make sure it hooks the reader; the ending is something we fuss over, in an effort to leave the reader with something exciting and memorable. That murky middle is a challenge — trying to move the story along and develop characters, while holding oneself back from peaking too soon….Argh, I didn’t mean for this to sound autobiographical, ha!

    • Haha! It must actually be quite hard to read other people’s stuff when you’re a writer yourself – you can probably see the workings, if you know what I mean. But from reading, yes, I agree – it’s quite often the middle that dips – trying to hold back info for the end while making it look credible is very tricky, and can leave the reader feeling cheated if it’s not done well. However, I think that’s something she’ll get better at as she goes along – she has all the skills and for a first novel this was exceptionally good. 🙂

  6. Oooh, I just checked Netgalley and it’s no longer available… probably just as well, as I have 28 books still to read from Netgalley – but it does sound promising.

    • Oh, what a pity, ‘cos I do think you’d enjoy this one. I’m so far behind with reviews at the moment that they’re coming out well past publication date, which probably means most of them will be archived on NG unfotunately.

  7. Nice review, FEF! Seems like a good one…but I must needs know…what is a weir?

    And if Emily was smarter, she’d probably have been fine, don’t you know!

    I think she took lots of pictures before she begrudgingly sent that one in.

    • Thank you, Aragorn! (I’ve decided to go with Aragorn because he’s the better warrior and such a dreadful flirt!) *laughs* Funny you should ask that – because it made me realise I really have no idea! It’s a kind of thingy in rivers, kinda like a dam, that makes the water above it slow down… or something. But what it’s for is a mystery to me… *note to self: don’t use words you don’t know the meaning of*

      I couldn’t agree more! I spent most of the book wanting to smack her upside the head – but, since she was dead by that stage, it seemed a bit pointless…

      *laughs lots* That’s so mean! I picked that one ‘cos I thought it was the nicest too…

      • *laughs* Aragorn! Hmm… He is kinda cool. But all that elf stuff… *gags* *laughing lots* You don’t know? So, it’s a dam. Okay, I’ll think of it like that. Surprising they found anyone in a weir, since no one seems to know what it is.

        See? She needed a mentor, or something. You could’ve mentored her into the right way of things. Like how to take pics for instance.

        No, it’s nice! Really is. She looks sweet. I’m just saying…bet there were thousands of duds!

        • Oh… you’d have flirted with Eowyn and Arwen too! You know you would! He is extremely gorgeous though… *laughs* Oh I’m sure somebody must know – the people who build them maybe! Otherwise what a pointless job…

          She did! I’d have stuck her in the dungeon for a few years – that’d bring her to her senses! *laughs* I’m going to throw that dadblamed camera in the river!

          *tries not to laugh* Vicked vun!

  8. I’m liking the sound of this one. And I like the insertion of contemporary issues, which are sadly such a part of so many young ones lives. They just seem to have no sense of what should and should not be shared. Anyway, I’m going to see about getting this book and yay for a debut book in a series.

    • Yes, I sometimes cringe when I see the amount of personal info that young people publish about themselves – things I’d only have confided in close friends. It wouldn’t be so bad if you could control your own info, but once it’s out there it’s gone – especially photos and video. I do hope you enjoy this – I think you will!

      I’m glad you commented, Kay, because I haven’t been able to leave a comment on your blog for the last couple of weeks and couldn’t think how to let you know. It won’t accept either a WordPress profile or an OpenID – at least, not mine. It just keeps going round in a circle and never actually posts the comment. I think it would take a Google ID, but I don’t use one. I’m not sure if the problem is at my end or yours, and will keep trying, but I didn’t want you to think I’d suddenly stopped visiting! 🙂

      • I’m not sure what the problem is. I checked my settings and it should accept OpenID or WordPress. Those are all listed. I haven’t wanted to open it up to ‘anyone’ can post. Sorry about your difficulties. Let me know if you continue to have a problem and I’ll try changing the setting.

        • Tried again today, but still couldn’t post. Haha! It occurred to me that maybe there’s a ‘boredom’ filter on it, and it only lets interesting comments through… 😉

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